Monday, April 5, 2010

Art Loeb Recon, Parts I & II

Duncan and I were dropped off in the middle of nowhere...we had hoped to take this road to pick up the Art Loeb near Farlow Gap and run 15 miles down to Davidson River Campground in Brevard. Plans changed. We couldn't drive over this bridge to get to the trailhead so we just took our stuff and a good map.

Reading a map is like learning a foreign language. Some "words" sound the same but have very different meanings. So, we took off and found an old forest service road, heading in what we hoped was the right direction. That "road" ended after about 2 miles, and we were sort of stupid to ever go down it - it was all grown up with stickers and we got shredded. We backtracked and looked at the map again, heading off in what I was hoping the right direction. We would know in about a mile, based on a stream crossing. We did cross a stream. Then, there would be another stream crossing in about another mile. There was. It seemed we were on the right trail, and we continued climbing.

Then the trail did something unexpected. Instead of one switchback that I had hoped would lead us to an intersection with the Art Loeb Trail, there was another switchback. I was, well, concerned, knowing that if we were not on course we'd have to run down the way we came, missing the trail entirely. Duncan suggested that perhaps the switchbacks were so close together that they were interpreted as a single switchback on the map. I checked the topography and it looked like we were in the right spot, with three knobs on our right and an apparent gap heading up toward the left. We trundled on.

Then the wind picked up and I could tell we were heading into a gap, just like on the map. A half mile later, our trail intersected the Art Loeb at Farlow Gap. Success, we found the what?

Decision time. Collectively, we were low on food and water. So, we decided to run up to the balds near the Parkway and call for a pick up, instead of running 15 miles down to Davidson River Campground. I was also worried about trail conditions. It looked like a bomb had shattered the treetops in the gap and the trail was in rough shape. Going all the way down would take a good long time.

The climb from Farlow Gap to the Blue Ridge Parkway is about a mile, but it's harder climbing than Uwharrie and about on par with the last section of Shut-In. We hit the Parkway at about 9.5 miles, and then continued to climb to the balds.

Again, the trail conditions were a bit sketchy, making tough going, tougher.

Finally near a ridge at around 6,000 ft elevation we entered a balsam forest with snow remnants and nice views.

We were able to connect with Paula via text and our plan was to run down to the falls near Graveyard fields and be extracted. So we did a little road running on the Parkway and went down to Lower Falls where I soaked my feet and washed off all the blood on my legs from the bramble scratches. The sun had warmed the rocks, so we finished most of our food and napped on boulders in the middle of the stream.

Awhile later we returned to the parking area and I observed something that I'd missed earlier: there was a blockade to the Parkway heading up to Asheville - the direction Paula would need to travel to pick us up. ooops. The Parkway was open from the other direction, but that would mean nearly a two hour drive for her and the rest of the family that was visiting in the mountains. So, we connected on cell and decided to meet at 276 and the Parkway near Mt. Pisgah. I was a little worried about our water status, but Paula said some rangers were driving up with some water for us.

We started running in the direction of Pisgah and after about a mile the rangers drove up, and very politely gave us 4 water bottles which we used to replenish our supply. They couldn't give us a ride however, because we were not in an emergency. Ok, fine. We continued running - Duncan moving easily ahead and stopping at the overlooks to wait for me to catch up.

Even though this was road running, I enjoyed it. How often do you get the opportunity to run the Blue Ridge Parkway entirely closed to traffic? But, what a mess! We were later told that the parkway from 276 to Graveyard Fields would be closed until June.

Looking across the ridges all the treetops were splintered from the winter storms. Eventually, (after about 4.5 miles) we were met by Paula, my brother-in-law, Dirk and his friend Derek who were walking in from 276 with more water and sandwiches. Duncan ran ahead and I enjoyed the remaining walk back to 276. Great memories... stunning views.


1. Forest Service roads can be impassable
2. Maps have to be interpreted
3. Food and Water should be measured on a model of double contingencies
4. Communication via cell is hit and miss
5. Positive outlook is essential

and it's great to know others are trying to think what you might do in the unexpected situation you find yourself in...

Great day "out there" - probably did more mileage than planned, and certainly spent more time on the feet than expected. That's good!

Here are the routes:

Start to Graveyard Fields (add 2 miles to total, note elevation gain from Farlow Gap)

There's much to consider here related to the upcoming Art Loeb attempt in April. I doubt we can tackle it in a day.

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